I recently had a chance to visit Tim Doyle of Nakatomi Inc. at his new shop here in Austin and chat with him a bit about the happenings of Nakatomi, himself, and his new gallery opening at Spoke Art.
I first learned about Tim’s local presence here in Austin by randomly coming across his work at Austin Books and Comics. Since then, I have come to know the guy by posting in the same groups as him online and by visiting his studio on a few occasions; he’s definitely the most down to earth artist and businessman with whom I have ever had the pleasure to speak.
Tim’s new studio over in Austin is a drastic change from his original place of business in his garage in, well, size mostly. He also got a bunch of awesome new equipment. When I first walked into his studio building, I was shocked! A lot of equipment was already setup, including a bunch of huge printing machines. It turns out that he shares the space with a T-shirt printing shop here in Austin. Tim opened a side door and showed me his screen printing space which was also setup but looked more reasonable in terms of the amount of equipment available.
Since Tim and I had so much to talk about, I’ve split the interview into several parts. Here is the first.
Also, I would like to note that this interview is transcribed, so there are could be several typos. Tim’s replies are in real time.
Bryan Henderson (NL): What made you decide to create a new print shop with all this new equipment, new location, etc.?
Tim Doyle (TD): Right, so, we’ve been working in my garage since summer of 2009; me and Clint Wilson built that print shop in there. Clint had the know-how of how to print manually, and I had the space and money to put it together, and we just sat down and planned it out and started building it. It was working great the whole time we were in there, but the last year, we were definitely like, “All right, we gotta get better equipment, we gotta get more space.”
It was just because we were falling over each other – it was getting too dense in there, and plus being in the garage, we were kinda at the mercy of the weather, so humidity was a real problem. These were all problems that every silk screen printer has if you work at home. Humidity is a problem; space is a problem.
NL: Especially since you converted that garage over. That was pretty tight.
TD: And that, yeah. Totally wrecking your house is a problem. Me and my wife had a second kid, and we were like, “We’ve gotta get the business out of this little space,” so I started looking around. First we were gonna’ remodel the garage – make it a double garage because it’s a single car – and then we were gonna work out of there. I was looking at what that would cost me versus what renting a place would cost, and so this just made more sense. I looked around for a few months, and these guys, I had worked with them for years – they used to print my T-shirts when I worked for the Alamo Drafthouse.
NL: Oh, cool.
TD: And so I just popped in here, and I just asked them if they knew of any spaces for rent, and it just happened that week, the guy who had been renting the space moved out. He just closed up shop and moved out, so they were like, “We have a space open downstairs. You can move right in.”
NL: That’s quite a coincidence!
TD: It worked out perfectly because some of the other places we were looking at were all like compromises. You know, it was like, well, this will be fine except for this, or this will be fine except for that. This place is five minutes from my house. It’s exactly the space I need, and if the business grows, I can take up more space.
NL: Yeah, that’s pretty convenient right there. Plus you have all these new machines like that huge auto press.
NL: How did you get that anyway?
TD: So this auto press, the smaller one, we had lined up. This guy I knew had a print shop, and he wasn’t using it and wanted to sell it, so I said, okay, all I need is to get that auto press, and we’ll move into this new space, and we’ll have all this extra room because I’m looking for around 800 or 900 square feet. I’d put in like a couch and a table and stuff. It would make kind of a cool place to hang out, and then as we were getting ready to move in here, a friend of mine who’s a printer in town gave me a call, and this place Aztec Marking – they did print signs – they went out of business.
They got bought up by a bigger company, so they were just dumping their equipment because the people who bought them didn’t want their equipment, they just wanted their client list. At that point, everything that was in the shop was just like junk to them because they don’t even do screen printing anymore, this new sign company that bought them. It’s all digital. So they had this giant poster rack that is the size of six of my regular racks, a clips press that can print 24×36, and this flat file here. I got it all for $2,000; it was just ridiculous.
NL: How much do those normally go for?
TD: That was built new in ‘94, so that thing is almost 20 years old but it works like it’s brand new. If I were to buy that same model today, brand new off the assembly line, it would be like $23,000.
NL: Holy smokes!
TD: …and I got it for $1500.
NL: Ah, you got a steal!
TD: Yeah, I know, right? At first, I was like, “That’s too much of a machine for me.” You know, “I’m confident I could learn,” and “I don’t even know how to use the auto press I have lined up,” and “I’m going to get this one that’s like three steps above.” But the price couldn’t be beat, and I was like, “You know what? If I just buy it, and I end up never using it, I could resell it. I could flip it!”
NL: You could flip it.
TD: I could flip it. A machine flipper.
NL: A machine flipper. Put it up on eBay or something.
TD: I could flip it to somebody else because I was totally confident I could sell it for five grand at least, you know? And we got it in here, and I was talking to Lee. He was showing me around the machine and got all the parts together that I need to make it complete, and it works like a dream. I would never sell it now it. It just works great. We printed like three jobs on it already.
NL: What have you printed out so far?
TD: I did a new edition of my crab print. My friend Jacob printed a poster that he’s selling at Parts and Labor supposedly. What was the other one? Squid. We did a new edition of the squid print [from] The Sea also Rises prints.
NL: Were those at a larger size?
TD: No, we just printed the regular size because I would have to rework the art quite a bit. We don’t quite have screens large enough to print that giant size yet, so I’ve gotta get some larger screens.
NL: So you have to figure all that out first.
TD: Yeah, but you know, the process is the same. I have to get some wider flood bars and squeegees and a new set of screens.
NL: As far as the larger press goes, is it more accurate as opposed to hand pulling?
TD: Yeah, we’re finding that, well, a lot of things changed from being in here. The weather got better, you know, inside this space, because we’re a room inside a room, so…
NL: Less humid, I guess?
TD: Yeah, the paper doesn’t expand and contract as much. So the registration is on a lot better, and you get way more consistent stroke with that, so everything is a lot tighter and sharper. The thing is, I kind of like the hand-pulled look on some of my prints because all those little imperfections for me are charming. But [for] some artists that you print for, you’d think they would just want a digital output; they want everything perfect. I’m like, well, if you want everything perfect, you probably shouldn’t get a silk screen.
NL: I think a lot of people expect that.
TD: God, I was reading that thread on Expresso Beans about Olly’s Double Ghost print. Some people got theirs back. Did you get yours all right?
NL: Mine was fine.
TD: I mean I understand if something’s crunched in shipping, that’s a problem, but some people were complaining about the printing.
NL: I checked it. The registration was pretty spot on.
TD: It’s just like, you know, it’s a silk screen, man. It isn’t like a piece of a space shuttle…
NL: It’s not like a lithograph or whatever.
TD: Even using [the autopress], you still have to manually place each sheet in position. You manually pull it off, you’re manually mixing the inks. You’re manually distributing the inks across the squeegee and the only thing that’s different is instead of using your arm to pull the squeegee, you have a robot arm pulling the squeegee. It’s still even using the machine, it’s not like a color copier. You know, you don’t put a stack of paper on one side and out comes a finished thing.
NL: Yeah, you still have to do each screen and all that. That’s pretty cool. I was wondering what you thought of giclées [I said it like “Gick-Lee”] or whatever the –
TD: Giclées. [He said it like “Jee-kley”]
NL: Giclée…is that how you say it?
TD: Giclée! I worked at a frame store when I was 18, fresh out of high school, and people were coming in with these giclées, but we didn’t fucking know how to say the word. You know, it’s me and my best friend, we were art students. I was like, “Gick-Lee? Is it Geek lee?”
NL: Yeah, I didn’t know until you told me.
TD: Yeah, it’s Jee-Kley. It’s French. I believe it’s, uh, somebody on Gig Posters said that it is the French word for “ink jet.” But I think they are fine. I went to Poster Cabaret here in town.
NL: I’ve been meaning to go there.
TD: I don’t think he has set business hours right now, but everything is on his site. He rented that space last year sometime, it’s pretty rad, if not overwhelming to see all that art in one location. It’s really impressive when you go in there because you get a look at all those giclées, and man, some of that stuff is fucking beautiful. I mean it’s like anything. A good printer or bad printer can make or break a piece. I was really impressed with the quality of some of that stuff. It’s really the only way to reproduce a painting. You know, there’s some giclées where I’m like, “Why didn’t you just silk screen that, buddy?”
NL: Some are like two or three colors.
TD: It’s cheaper to do a two- or three-color silk screen than to print a giclée 18×24, you know? I bought a giclée for my wife for Christmas. I forget the girl. She does paintings of air stream trailers – silver airstream trailers that are just stunning, and I could buy an original one for $1,200 or I could buy the giclée for $50, and it looks just as good in a frame.
NL: It might be a little shiny because of the paper.
TD: It’s printed on matte finish paper, and it just looks so good.
NL: This is probably the last question about your new shop. Do you see your whole operation expanding? Do you plan on hiring maybe artists to do some prints for you?
TD: I’ve always worked with outside artists since day one. And actually, the original concept of Nakatomi was just to work with other artists. I wasn’t gonna be one of the main artists on the site, and I put out a couple of prints for fun. I was like, “Hey, why not put out a couple?” It was that Bill Murray Times Six and Change into a Truck, and it was like the biggest sale ever, and I was like, “Oh, we obviously do well by releasing artwork by me, so I’ll keep doing that.”
NL: You went with what works.
TD: We don’t necessarily hire the artists as we are more like an online gallery where it’s like a commission. Not a commission; you split the revenue. And depending on who the artist is or if it is something we have printed, something we have already printed, it’s like a split, but you know like when Russ released his, Russ’s print was like 50/50. It was like it was selling at a gallery. We paid for the printing, put it out there.
NL: That one was really popular, too.
TD: That was surprising. I had talked to Russ the night before. I was like, “You know, we will sell 30 or something, and then it will trickle for the next few months, and you know, I’ve got stuff coming up. We’ll have it at FLATSTOCK, we’ll have it at other places. Like we will sell every single one of these prints. I just don’t expect it to happen tomorrow.
NL: Not in two hours.
TD: And then it happened immediately. Oh. Well, okay.
NL: That was nuts.
TD: I called him right up. I was like, “You – do another one! Do more! Let’s keep going!”
NL: Yeah, why not?
TD: So yeah, Russ is pretty cool. When I started Nakatomi, I was like, “Well, I want to make everything as equitable as possible.” It took a couple of months to get it dialed in ‘cause I was thinking there would be way more volume than we actually were at the start. I was like, “Oh, we could pay an artist a small percentage of sales, and they were going to make way more than they ever did [ … ],” and then as time went by, we worked out like, okay, if I am publishing an artist’s work, it should be like a gallery where it’s fair – they get a 50/50 split. I was just starting out, so I didn’t have a lot of money to pay the artist straight-up every time, but so that way, we could get it printed, I’d take care of the printing on my end, and then we would split the profits from the thing 50/50, and that way it feels more fair to me.
NL: That wouldn’t be as risky.
TD: Yeah, it’s not as risky to me. It’s more financially beneficial to the artist, and as an artist, that’s the kind of deal [that’s totally fair]. Whenever I’ve worked for a gallery, and they are like, “Oh, it’s a 50/50 split,” and I’m like yes, perfect, that’s totally fair. If I make a dollar, you make a dollar. That seems the most egalitarian way about it.
Like I understand what I’m doing is a lot different than other places out there as far as the products go. You know like Acme archives and Mondo; they pay a licensing fee and everything’s set on the front end so they can’t do it the way I do it, but that’s the nature of the business. I’m trying to do it as fair as possible from the get-go, so that any artists can do well because some artists, they don’t have their own websites, and they don’t sell their own work. It’s really weird to me. It’s fewer and fewer all the time, but some guys don’t have their own retail site, so I feel bad.
NL: They are probably too busy doing art to care about that stuff.
TD: Yeah, there’s a lot of that. That’s why Jon Smith contacted me. We’ve been friends for years, and he’s like, “Look, I’m taking weeks and weeks to ship posters I have in my bedroom just because I’m busy working on other things trying to live my life. Can I send my catalog to you, and you can just ship it out for a percentage?” And that’s what we do. That’s good because it takes it off Jon, and he doesn’t have to worry about sales or anything. But he gets 24-hour turnaround on in-stock items. His customers are happy, and I’m happy.
NL: Everyone benefits including the customer.
TD: Right. Right.
NL: Can you briefly describe who works for you and what they do?
TD: Yeah, so I have two employees who are almost full-time: Sean Rob and Zane Thomas. Sean used to work for me at Mondo, and I met Zane because he was a food runner at the Alamo. They both got let go after I left for different reasons. And at the start, it was just me at Nakatomi, and my wife was finishing up school, and we took on Clint, and we buddied up and built the print shop to start working together. He was never an employee or anything; he just was like, “Hey, do you want to work together on this?” He already had his thing going on with his art, but he didn’t have like a web site to sell stuff, so I was like, “Oh I’ll sell your stuff, and we’ll work together.”
Then I needed somebody to do more printing, so I hired Clint for a little bit, and then he got a full-time job at the state, and so I hired my friend Sean who was looking for a job, and then I hired his friend Zane who I kind-of knew, and then I got an intern for a little while, and my wife’s doing accounting full-time for the business. She takes care of all the money like the taxes get paid and all that. She makes sure that the employees get paid.
NL: That must be a full-time gig right there.
TD: You know it’s probably maybe 20 hours a week.
NL: That’s still a lot of work.
TD: But doing it with the two kids we have, that’s a lot of work.
NL: A lot of juggling around.
TD: Especially at this time of year. It’s January, so it’s the end of year, taxes and everything. But yes, all the employees are legit now. It’s not contract labor. Their social security’s getting paid and everything, and this is all her. She takes care of all of them, health insurance and all that fun stuff, so I’ve got two almost full-time employees plus my wife, and all the artists I’m working with, so yeah, it’s turning into a much bigger operation.
NL: Are you looking at hiring new people?
TD: Maybe. We’re gonna’ get stuff dialed in here. You know, I have a new website I have to build for the print shop to take on outside print jobs, and we’ll see how busy we get with printing. If we get really busy, I am going to definitely have to hire somebody else ‘cause between Sean and Zane, we’re keeping on top of printing and the shipping and everything, but if we get too much busier, I’m gonna need somebody else, which is a good problem to have, really.
NL: It sounds like you are expanding at a rapid rate.
TD: Our sales keep going up. It’s good.
NL: So the poster market, it sounds like it’s not on the decline at all, but I’ve heard some people kind of describe it as an ephemeral market.
TD: Well, it depends on who you are talking to. I know a lot of the gig poster guys are hurting because not as many people buy rock posters.
NL: I have never understood that aspect myself.
TD: Buying rock posters?
TD: I mean, I’m not a rock-poster guy. I’ve made a few, like I’m making one for the Black Keys this month – February, I think. They contacted me, which is nice. I want to get into doing more of that stuff because it’s fun and it’s something I haven’t done much of, but I think a lot of people who are buying gig posters started buying the pop culture stuff because they were more into it. There’s a problem inherent in gig posters in that you can love the band and hate the art, or hate the art and love the band; you have to get somebody who loves both to buy it.
NL: It could be tricky.
TD: It is a little bit tricky whereas with the pop culture stuff, it’s a lot easier, especially art prints – just straight up art prints are a lot easier because it’s not referencing anything, like when you buy a Daniel Danger art print, it’s gonna be because you like Daniel Danger’s art; it’s not ‘cause it’s like, “Oh, that’s for Phish” or something like that. I have stated my feelings on Phish and Dave Matthews. It’s funny because a lot of the guys I know who do gig posters know those are the big money bands, like if you do a poster for Dave Matthews or a poster for Phish —
NL: I have seen so many of those posters, it’s crazy.
TD: — they are gonna’ sell out immediately. It’s like a guaranteed sell-out. So the artists really want those gigs, but I don’t know many artists who do those gigs who actually like those bands. And a lot of those who told me about that said, “Yeah, I can’t fucking stand Phish.”
NL: I was wondering about that.
TD: Yeah, they were like, “I need $4,000, but I’ll swallow my pride and do a Phish poster.” I know it’s all subjective, you know, it’s like art: you either like it or you don’t. So I’m not gonna say people who like Phish are idiots or anything; it’s just not for me.
NL: Yeah, I can totally understand that.
TD: There are two markets: There are artists selling art to people and customers, and then there are these customers selling art to customers, and really people like to look at it like one organism, but really it’s two separate markets because when I do a FLATSTOCK or I do a craft fair or consignment shops, I’m selling to people who just want cool stuff, like, “Hey, that’s cool, I want to buy that…put it on my wall.”
And then there’s the collector crowd that is like this separate organism, and they have their own rules and customs, and they are selling stuff to each other, and that’s how you end up with a $2,000 Olly Moss poster the week after it comes out. And you know, realistically, that’s like a separate organism entirely because I’m the first seller. I sell to somebody, and whatever happens outside of my hands is outside of my control and it’s not like this black market; it’s totally weird.
NL: It’s like a different subculture, maybe.
TD: Yeah, and really, I’ve had some collectors get upset at me for doing second editions of my art prints.
NL: Oh, like the Change into a Truck.
TD: Like the Change into a Truck. But what they don’t realize is that I’m not doing this stuff for them – I’m doing it for the somebody who walks in from the street Into Parts & Labor, (?) Luke Genie, and they are like, “Hey, that’s great! I want that!” And they don’t give a crap whether it says fourth edition, fifth edition, sixth edition. They just want something cool. That’s the customer I want. I’m not saying I don’t like collectors because obviously they buy my work. But I’m also not going to dictate my business plan to collectors because I’ve worked in comic books, baseball card stores, and collectible toy stores and I used to collect toys like crazy, and I’ve seen what happens.
If you think you know for certain what is going to happen with the value of these ephemera, you know, this collectible market, then you’re always going to be in for a rude awakening. You might be totally surprised and like, “Hey this thing went up a crazy value!” or you might wake up the next day, and nobody gives a crap about your OJ Simpson rookie card that is suddenly not worth anything in ‘99 after his murder trial. You know what I mean? It’s like there are no guarantees.
NL: It’s all pretty interesting.
TD: And for me to base my primary marketing strategy on this secondary market is not safe. I have a mortgage, and I’ve got kids, and I work for myself, so it’s like when I was working for Mondo — we could do whatever we wanted with that stuff because I was working for a big multimillion dollar corporation known as the Alamo Drafthouse, and I still got a paycheck every two weeks whether I sold nothing or everything, so for me, it was a lot safer. I could take these harder lines, and I could be like, “Oh, we’d never do that!”
But now I work for myself, and I could be like, “Well, I kind-of need a 401K, I need to plan for my retirement.” I need that, so do I want to appeal to this collector’s market, or do I want to appeal to everybody? If there’s a collector’s market that does like my stuff, all the better. But if they suddenly start hating my stuff, I still have this broad market appeal.
NL: It’s kind of like two different things.
TD: And I’m not saying that I’m right; this is where I’m at right now. Check back in six months. I might have a completely different opinion.
NL: This market is so varied that I have seen some weird stuff happen over a small amount of time. That Olly Moss Totoro variant print – I didn’t think it would go up to $1,500 or whatever.
TD: The posters I do for the Astor Theater, I haven’t talked to that guy in a little bit, but he sent me this calendar, and he was like, “Hey, let me know if there are any movies here you want to do.” I was like, “My Neighbor Totoro.” This was like eight months ago. I was like, “I want to do a My Neighbor Totoro poster more than anything. It’s one of my favorite movies.” He’s like, “Nobody cares about that movie. I don’t even know what that is. Nobody’s gonna’ want a Totoro movie poster.”
They were doing the whole Miyazaki movie series retrospective, and so they were showing all these movies. I was like, “I would love to do any of these, but Totoro – I’ll do it for free!” Like I was just, “I’ll send you the prints, and if you make any money, then pay me.” Like I was that convinced. And he was like, “Ehh…” Then I did Logan’s Run. And then this thing comes out and blows up, and I was like, “See!?!?”
NL: He should have trusted your word.
TD: Well, he knows what he knows. Everybody’s got their niche, and he’s not a Japanese animation guy, so he doesn’t have any sense on how that stuff would sell. But if you talk about exploitation films or sci-fi films, he’s totally knowledgeable, but everybody’s got their own niche of what they know or what they don’t know. I wouldn’t do any chick-flick films, but I may be totally missing the market there.
NL: You could be making a Notebook print. They’d be selling out like crazy. You’d see those on the market for $2,000 or whatever.
TD: Right. That’s the thing about selling at these craft fares and stuff, is that I actually sell a lot to women. A lot. And online, you check out the demographics of people buying those posters, and it’s probably like 85% men whereas in person, it’s like 60% women buying at these consignment shops and these craft fares.
NL: I wonder why that is.
TD: It’s different shopping habits. They are not as driven by collectibility as boys are like a lot of boys play like when they are kids, like, gotta collect ‘em all, or like baseball cards.
TD: Yeah, or like when girls play, the collector thing isn’t in there as strongly.
Nerdlocker (NL): Kinda’ wanted to change gears to Drafthouse some more.
Tim Doyle (TD): Sure.
NL: Were you there in 2008?
TD: Yep. I started working with the Alamo at the end of ’04, started running Mondotees at the start of ’05, and I left in January of ’09.
NL: Okay, ‘cus in 2008 that was just a really wicked year. You had Stout Robocop, The Thing, Blade Runner…
TD: That was nuts.
NL: …All that crazy stuff. I was just wondering did you have any input whenever the artists were working on it? Would they send you drafts?
TD: Yeah, there were some artists. So, when I walked into the Alamo, just to give a little back-story, I was a food-runner, and then I was a cook.
NL: You worked your way up.
TD: And then I was a waiter, and then I interviewed for a management position that had opened up. I didn’t get it. When I started there, I was friends with a guy who’s now the creative director for the Alamo Drafthouse. Back then he was just a programmer. So he just got me a job because I had walked out of my comic book store job before that. So when I interviewed for management, they were like, “Oh, this guy’s not an idiot. He doesn’t have restaurant management experience, but he does know how to manage a shop.” ‘Cus I had managed several retail stores at that point. And so Mondotees had blown through four managers in like, six months. Because it was a hallway; it was about the size of my garage if not smaller. It was a hallway in the old Downtown Alamo which closed down back in ’06 I think.
So Mondotees was this narrow hallway full of like bootleg T-shirts and iron-ons, and they had a small stack of posters in the back from some old events, like Rolling Roadshow ’05. And I was like, what is this stuff? This is cool. It wasn’t even on the website at the time, like nobody knew what to do with it. We didn’t even know how to pack a poster. So I had to make phone calls. I was talking to Tim League, the guy who founded the Alamo, and was like, “Where are these from?” So he put me in touch with Rob Jones, who started the Rolling Roadshow poster series.
Rob had approached Tim League and said, “Hey, you should do posters for these.” and Tim was like, “Alright, as long as it doesn’t cost us any money.” So nobody got paid, and the artist got paid by getting copies for themselves. This was all before I got there. So I was talking to Rob Jones and I was like, “Man, let’s do more of this!” And so for special events we would do stuff. My attention was definitely split because I was retail manager for the store, I was the creative director for the store, I did all the T-shirt design.
NL: So you wore a lot of hats, I guess.
TD: Yeah, yeah I did. We started doing posters for more events, and then I realized, well, why are we waiting to do posters for events; we should just, if we’re showing a cool movie, we should do a poster for it. And so that’s why we started doing that sci-fi series in ’08. We sold more copies of Jay Ryan’s 2001 poster than we sold tickets to people seeing 2001. And at that point I was like, well, any excuse to make a poster we should just make a poster because we can’t lose money on it. And then we’d just get ’em, number ’em, pack ’em up and ship ’em out. And everybody was happy to get their posters in under two weeks.
We’d make sure we’d get the stuff from the artists and that it was totally done and ready to go. It was working really nicely. Oh, you were asking me about the artists though. Like, as far as art direction with these guys, Rob and me would bounce stuff back-and-forth, like, “Hey, we should get this guy to do this poster.” He’d be like, “Oh, we should get this guy.” And we’d just back-and-forth, work it out.
So yeah, like when Tyler (Stout) was working on a poster he would send you parts of it, ‘cus he works in Photoshop or Illustrator or whatever and be like, “Here’s this area I’m working out…I gotta’ work out this area…” So you’d see this poster slowly grow, the line art, and then BAM, here’s the finished art. So I almost never, ever had to be like, “Oh you should do this” or, “You should do that” to Tyler. Never. Because his stuff was always golden; no complaints. So it was definitely a different time back then. It was great, and you know, we released some posters that I probably wouldn’t stand behind, we released some stuff that I thought was amazing. Like Lil Tuffy did this poster for The Gate that was like this simple two-color thing.
NL: I’ve seen that; that’s really cool.
TD: Yeah, it was just a real simple design. You see the hole in the ground…
NL: You see the outline of the figures.
TD: Yeah. But then he did a Point Blank that was like, you missed the mark. Like Point Blank is this big, colorful movie and part of it takes place in Alcatraz. So I got this grey poster of Alcatraz, and I was like what? This should be like a crazy poster! But it’s those kind of risks that I thought were a lot of fun ‘cus you really didn’t know what you were gonna’ get. Little Friends of Printmaking did a Batman: The Motion Picture, 1966, poster, that really, by all intents and purposes, looks like Catwoman is fisting Batman. And we were like, oh, what, like, okay.
And then you get totally blown out of the water, like Jay Ryan’s 2001 poster. It looks like nothing Jay Ryan’s done before or since. When I gave him that gig I was like, “He’s gonna’ draw the monkeys, I know he’s gonna’ draw the monkeys.” But then you get this real angular, mechanical-looking thing of the pod and the monolith; it looks like nothing he’s done. And I was really into it. I was like, “Man, this is nuts Jay. This is great.” So I like the unpredictability of it.
NL: You ever think you might see over-saturation in this market with the way things are going?
TD: It does seem like it. That’s kind-of the reason I built the print shop, to get outside jobs, because that way there’s a little more regularity to my income. ‘Cus if we take on three/four jobs a month from outside sources it’s gonna’ pay for all this (the shop), my employees and my health insurance. It will be a nice baseline. So it doesn’t matter whether people like my stuff, or stop liking my stuff, or whatever, I’m still able to make an income. And it’s all about building relationships with the artists we work with. I like that stuff.
NL: Can you tell us a little bit about the gallery show in San Francisco you just did?
TD: Yeah, it’s called “Unreal Estate” and it’s essentially a bunch of drawings of fictional locations that, for me, I wrote a whole artist’s statement on it (read more here), fictional locations that in many ways seem more real than real locations because they’re still there. Like, if I go to my grandparent’s house, it’s totally different and some strangers are living there. But you know exactly what’s going on inside Moe’s Tavern right now.
But yeah, it’s all these fictional, sometimes real, locations but all associated with television programs that have this strong sense of familiarity about them. So three of the pieces are The Simpsons, I have Sesame Street, Strickland Propane from King of the Hill, the Bluth Banana Stand from Arrested Development, the Seinfeld restaurant, and Sopranos. So it’s nine pieces, plus the original artwork for those nine pieces, and there’s variants on most of them.
NL: Do you have any plans for future gallery shows?
TD: Yeah. SpokeArt has been so good to me, I really like working with them. I got word recently of a show that hasn’t been announced (at the time of the interview) that I’ll probably be participating in. If “Bad Dads” comes back again this year I’ll at least have on piece in that. I wonder if “Quentin vs. Coen” is coming back ‘cus they, not that they over-saturate the market, but I think they like –
NL: There’s a lot out there. I remember that.
TD: – and I think they said their piece. And I don’t even know what the fuck I would do, ‘cus I did a print for each one of Tarantino’s movies, I did like four prints for Coen Brothers. Sometimes there’s just too much.
NL: Yeah everything’s been said in terms of –
TD: Although, you know I thought I had done my bit with Wes Anderson and then I did that Bill Murray portrait for Life Aquatic and that thing sold out immediately.
NL: Yeah I saw that AP wood edition or whatever.
TD: Yeah we had that ten-piece, I thought that actually Ken was gonna’ put that up at the show, but he held it back a couple of weeks so he could release it with my Kurt Vonnegut wood, which is fine. So those both sold out in the same day, which was nuts. By the time “Quentin vs. Coen” rolls around again, if it comes back, I don’t know if I might have something to say. I might take another tack.
NL: Get some time to refresh the mind a bit.
TD: Right. ‘Cus I mean the scenes I picked, there’s so much more in those movies you could do. Like Pulp Fiction there’s all these iconic moments. I picked one that’s not really an iconic moment but I just thought it was a really funny angle on a scene.
NL: I’ve noticed a lot of your work has to do with scenery and cars; less to do with the likeness of the characters.
TD: It’s on purpose, because, I could draw portraits all day long. And everybody would be like, “Wow! Look at that portrait!” You know, like I did that Bill Murray portrait for Zissou, and it was like, “Wow! Look at that!” And I’m like, yeah, this is easy. It’s easy for me. I’ve been drawing portraits and painting portraits and it’s not as challenging to me. In no way am I dogging anybody for doing portraits, but I feel like I’ve done everything I can with it. It’s more like a game I play in my head. Like how can I get this information across; how can I make it so obviously a scene from this movie without actually drawing any of the faces or minimally drawing a character?
NL: Like in your Die Hard poster?
TD: Yeah! I purposely put that fire hose in front of Bruce Willis’ face. ‘Cus everybody’s got this idea in their head of what Bruce Willis looks like, but if I draw Bruce Willis some people will be like, “Oh, it looks just like him.” and other people will be like, “Oh, that looks nothing like him.” It just depends on the viewer really. Really it’s just about that scene, and I thought it was way more interesting to draw ‘cus that scene is so iconic. It’s like, the scene in the movie that everybody knows.
NL: Right, you wanted the attention drawn toward the scene and not his face.
TD: Right, I like the whole motion of it. One guy was like, “Oh, you drew him with his tank-top. He doesn’t have his tank-top on in that scene.” Shut up!
NL: The little details.
TD: I’m not recreating the scene, I’m capturing the idea of a scene. Like that Marsellus Wallace one from Pulp Fiction. You know him from the back of his head so well there’s no point in drawing Ving Rhames’ face. It’s just it’s funnier to not, in many ways. Or like the Blade Runner one I did for the Astor Theatre, it’s Roy Batty from behind and you know it’s a Blade Runner print ‘cus it’s all the iconography from the scenery and the sets and stuff. That big-ass TDK sign, like you can see that and be like, “Ah, Blade Runnerimmediately.
NL: Yeah, it has a very distinct look to it; you’re just trying to capture that.
TD: I find it a lot harder to move someone, a viewer, emotionally by drawing the scenery and people from behind, so I’d rather accept that challenge and go at it. Because if you draw a portrait of someone looking sad, you’re human; you’re immediate response is, “Oh, sad.” But if I just do that through like a rainy day with blue tones and you can’t even see anybody’s face, like that’s way more interesting to me. It’s just a challenge I want to do for myself. And of course, you know, next week I’ll probably do a portrait. But that’s where that stuff comes from.
NL: Speaking of movies, do you have any favorites?
TD: Blade Runner, by far, my all-time favorite movie. But my top five movies it’s like Robocop, Blade Runner, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Babe: Pig in the City, and I’m not joking – it’s so good!
NL: I don’t think I’ve seen that one but I’ve seen it on Netflix.
TD: It’s a really good movie. I like Babe one, but Babe two, it kills.
NL: I don’t think I’ve seen either one, actually. I remember that line: “That’ll do, Pig.”
TD: I said that to my mom once as a joke; she didn’t get it.
NL: Was that from the first one?
TD: Yeah, yeah. And then he says it again in the second movie ‘cus it’s such a good line. And then Raising Arizona for my top five. That movie, you could watch it over and over again and it never gets tired, to me. I never get tired of that.
NL: Yeah, I’ve seen it a few times.
TD: I used to work at Suncoast Video, back when DVDs first came out. That was hilarious explaining to people. “No, you can’t put this in your CD player!”
NL: People would actually ask that?
TD: Yeah. But we could only show certain movies that were all-ages, so there were a few movies that we could show all day long and nobody would get in trouble at the mall for having obscenity or something like that. And so there was Raising Arizona and Austin Powers. So I’ve probably seen both those movies hundreds of times. I would always say, “No Austin Powers please; I’ve had enough of this.” But Raising Arizona, I never got tired of that.
NL: That’s a Coen Brother movie, isn’t it?
TD: Mm-hmm, yeah. It was funny, when DVDs first came out people had no idea what the fuck was going on. ‘Cus they were still selling video cassettes in fullscreen and widescreen, and people would always buy the, “Oh, I want the collectible edition.” and they’d get the widescreen and come back and be like, “This has got black bars all over it! I don’t know what the hell’s goin’ on. My TV it like, cuts off the picture.” And I’m like, “No, no, you’re actually seeing the sides…” They didn’t understand widescreen and aspect ratios. And so DVDs would get returned constantly. Yeah, video stores, they’re all gone now. It was a weird thing at the time.
NL: I notice you have a comic book background, so I guess a lot of your art style is based on, kind-of inspired by comic book art, in a way.
TD: Yeah. I love comic books. I learned to read reading comic books, learned to draw by looking at comic books – How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and all that good stuff.
NL: That’s a good book.
TD: That is a good book. It is a really good book. You can learn perspective, you can learn just about anything you need out of there. Except don’t draw women like Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby can not draw women – attractive women. He can draw women; attractive women – debatable. But yeah, I have about half as many comic books as I used to have. Like I’ve never really considered myself like a comic book collector, so much as a guy who read a lot of comic books and didn’t throw them away. So I just accumulated; I was like a comic book accumulator. So I had a ton of comic books and before I moved into my house I was like, “What am I gonna’ want to read again before I’m dead?” And I just dumped like half my collection thru eBay or to friends and stuff like that. But I still read maybe 10 comic books a week, so fast forward maybe six more years and I’m back at the same fucking level of comic books again.
NL: Oh boy, it never ends.
TD: Yeah, ‘cus I love ’em. I’ll read ’em. But it’s just like, what do I do with this? I do have, the one thing I did collect was a full run of Iron Man.
NL: You still have that?
TD: Yeah I have every issue of Iron Man ever published, from Tales of Suspense #39, 1961 (Editor’s Note: This issue actually came out in March 1963), to whatever came out last week.
NL: Wow, that is crazy.
TD: It’s been my favorite character since I was a kid. So when the movie came out I was like, “Yeah! See? told you guys! Stupid X-Men fans, Iron Man is where it’s at!”
NL: …Except for Iron Man 2.
TD: Yeah, that movie was rough. Nah, but it’s fun seeing these little properties that, you know, just kind-of survive through way of luck and chance ’til they become these billion-dollar franchises. It makes you think Hollywood’s out of ideas, honestly.
NL: Yeah, we have a lot of sequels…
TD: Lot of sequels.
NL: …and remakes.
TD: It’s funny, I think television’s had a lot of influence on that. Because you can get – good, serialized television is better than any movie I’ve seen. Like I’d put The Wire up against Citizen Kane. You know? It’s like, The Wire – have you seen that show?
NL: I watched like part of the first season, but I got annoyed with Netflix ‘cus I had to keep sending ’em back.
TD: Oh, were they all scratched and stuff?
NL: Uh, no, but I just had to wait.
TD: Oh yeah, yeah. That is annoying. Yeah, no, I love it. but you can tell such a big, grand story. You know, like Sopranos and even, as much problems as I had with Lost, the serialized nature of it was really engaging. You can tell these big, grand, long epics that you can’t do with movies. And so I think, that’s kind-of why you get all these sequels because people just want more. Like, “Hey, what’s next with that character?” You know? I mean, they make so much money because it’s a recognized brand and like I can’t blame Hollywood; they gotta’ go where the money’s at. But at the same time it’s like, ahhh, God, we’re never gonna’ get another 2001, are we?
NL: Now that was a great movie.
TD: Yeah. It’s really, for a movie that is so slow in parts, it’s just so engaging. Every single bit – so when I got that gig to do the poster, for the Astor Theatre, I was like, “Hell yeah!” Like yes, I love this movie, let’s go. That’s why I put all those different scenes in. If I had printed a really big poster I probably could’ve had so many layers on that onion. ‘Cus there’s only like four segments in that poster I did but I could have kept going, infinitely. Like just all these boxes within boxes. It is so good!
NL: Speaking of which, do you plan on doing 24″x36″ prints now?
TD: Yeah I’m gonna’ give it a shot. I mean, I really like 18″x24″ and 12″x24″, I like that size. But I might print that size just larger. I mean 24″x36″ is 18″x24″, you know, it’s the same ratio. It’s the same composition problems you have to solve. But it will be interesting to do like really crazy detailed stuff, you know, and just big. Something like that Sea Also Rises print with the squid, twice as large. So yeah I definitely want to be doing that, we’ll see. I’m just coming off all this work for this art show, so my mind is numb, artistically, right now.
NL: Yeah I’ll bet. That’s a lot of stuff you had to do. So what are your thoughts on video games?
TD: I love video games! Um, okay, I say I love video games; I haven’t played a game that wasn’t on my iPhone in probably three years, and that’s sad. I was almost done with San Andreas and I just kinda’ stopped playing ‘cus I got busy.
NL: Too much other stuff. I’ve read in some of your other interviews you’re like, “Yeah, if you want to get anything done you just don’t play video games.”
TD: The busier I got the less games I played until I finally just stopped. But I was over at my friend’s house and he had that Batman game, uh, Arkham City.
NL: Ah that game is so good.
TD: Oh it’s so good, and it’s everything I want in a game, ever. And I was like, okay, cool, I’m done, I gotta’ walk away ‘cus if I play this for too much longer… His brother-in-law, his wife’s brother, is a huge video game addict – like probably diagnosable. But he had a Nintendo 3DS, he was like, “Hey Tim, check this out.” I was like, “Oh what do you – OH WOW!” It’s 3D! With my own glasses, I don’t have to wear anything!
NL: Turn your back for a second and they come out with all this stuff. It’s a growing market.
TD: It blew my mind. I played the ass out of all those Resident Evil games, up through three, I didn’t play Resident Evil 4.
NL: That’s like the best one!
TD: Resident Evil 4? I played a little bit, I didn’t like it, ‘cus it’s like the moving camera. I like the suspense you get for not being able to see around the corner…
NL: Yeah, they’re different games, pretty much.
TD: But, you know, I’m sure it’s fun. I mean, hell, the franchise, they’ve got what, part six coming out? And Silent Hill is so good. I had a Nintendo, I got it in ’87, my mom bought it for me because I broke my leg.
NL: Lucky you.
TD: Yeah, she was like, “Oh, I’ll get Tim a Nintendo.” And then it was BAM! I was done, I was done at that point. There’s no such thing as “outside” anymore. There isn’t school, or sleep, there was the time between I could and could not play video games. Actually, before that, I had a TI – Texas Instruments – 99/4 computer and it had all these, not knock-off games, but like, instead of Pac-Man it had Munch Man. And like a side-scrolling spaceship game called Parsec. It had a voice modulator on it so in some ways it was kind-of more advanced than Nintendo ‘cus like it would talk to you, in speech. Not like when Mario’s counting you down in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!like, “Mwap! Mwap! Mwap!” That’s not talking, what are you, talking? So this thing talked. It was really cool.
So yeah we had video games in the house even before Nintendo. I never had an Atari though. But yeah, no, I love video games but I just know I’ll never get any work done ever again and I’ll be homeless if I start playing. I got a Wii for my wife for Christmas not last year but the year before, and we just started playing some of the games on it this year – the bowling game and stuff like that, just the normal stuff that comes with the Wii. It’s like, “Oh this is so much fun!” but I like those games ‘cus you can’t get sucked into ’em. You’re not going to be like bowling for five hours straight.
NL: That’s true it’s all casual stuff.
TD: But I’m sure if I picked up The Legend of Zelda game I would disappear and nobody would see me ever again. I spend enough time watching television and following news and reading books and comics that the last thing I need is to add video games on top of that.
NL: Speaking of comics, your next comic book, you just released your new comic Bad Cat Comics.
TD: Bad Cat Comics #1 – it was kind-of a fun little vanity project. This friend of mine is one of the head writers for The Austin Chronicle, he saw that Bad Cats print I did, the Camino Cats print, the cats stealing the shark, and he’s like, “You need to write the story of how this happened.” I was like, “I don’t have a story, how that happened. I just drew the print.” And again, like a lot of my art prints, it’s just like this weird stream of consciousness. Like, “I’m gonna’ draw a car with cats! That’ll be funny! And they should be stealing something. What about a fish tank? What about a SHARK in a fish tank! That would be hilarious!” So that’s the story. But the comic came about ‘cus he wanted me to write it and draw it and he was gonna’ publish it in his literary anthology he puts out once a year called Minerva’s Wreck. And so he got 250 copies of that first printing inserted into 250 copies of his literary anthology and I just printed 500 ‘cus I wanted some copies for myself. And that thing sold out! I did not see that coming.
NL: That sold out quick. Online?
TD: Online and in person. You know, we had some at the Blue Genie (Art) Bazaar, I had some at Parts & Labor, I did a couple comic book conventions. But 250 copies of a comic in today’s age with zero advertising and I’m not a name in the comic book industry – for some reason! – that was kind-of impressive, so I went back for a second printing. I’ll probably have the second printing for a long time, and that’s fine, I just wanted to get it out there.
NL: So more people can enjoy it.
TD: Yeah, and a lot of people are like, “Oh, are you making good money?” And I’m like, “No! I’m barely breaking even on this!” ‘Cus publishing is retarded, you know? I do a print, I spend maybe $4 printing it; it’s all materials. But then you sell it for $30…you’re putting in hours and hours drawing the thing, but you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how much you’re actually making. But like a comic, you spend way more time doing a comic book then you ever will on a print, and you’re lucky if you can sell it for $5.
NL: Did you print that yourself?
TD: We printed the covers and then had the interiors done here in town, they did the binding for us. It’s a silkscreen cover. But what’s funny is that through doing this process I pretty much found out that I could probably do a full-color cover, get somebody else to print it for me, and get it done for cheaper than what I actually paid to have that thing printed here. ‘Cus it’s like oh yeah, you’ve got these big presses they just run so fast. So if I ever do a third printing of that I’ll probably do a full-color cover and it will be just regular comic book stock.
NL: So you did a second printing?
TD: Yeah, I mean, it’s identical except it says “second printing” and I fixed some lettering mistakes – I had one typo. And I moved all the word balloons around a little bit to make it a little bit easier to read the second time through. A lot of people are like, “Oh I really want that first printing.” And I’m like, “One, it’s sold out, and two, the second one’s better, so…”
NL: Those collectors, trying to sell ’em on eBay.
TD: I know, right? And it’s fine; people get really angry at flippers but they wouldn’t be able to do it if people weren’t willing to pay a price. If people all took a hard line, they would go away. In some weird way it kind-of benefits the primary seller. I know if I do a print and it starts selling on eBay for $100, I know people are gonna’ pay more attention to my artwork in the future because they’re like, “Ooh, there’s money to be had.” On one hand, yeah, that’s good, on the other hand, it’s gross.
NL: There is something kinda’ dirty about that.
TD: Yeah. That’s kind-of why I do second editions and third editions of some of the more popular stuff. Why, one, deprive the customers who want it? Two, feed the flippers, ‘cus you’re just creating a market where the flippers are making money. And three, why am I denying myself the money, you know?
NL: Yeah you don’t see any of that that they’re making.
TD: Yeah. So when I did that second edition of Change into a Trucksome people were like, “Oh you’re just killing your career; you’re over!” No, here I am three years later, I’m doing pretty well, so…shut up. I’d rather make artwork for people who can afford it than make collectibles, but that’s me.
NL: Are there any upcoming artists who are still kind-of unknown that you’re looking forward to seeing more of their work?
TD: I’m really excited about working with Russ (Moore). Not only is he one of the nicest guys I’ve ever talked to, he’s really coming along, his stuff’s growing. It’s not an aesthetic that I would normally seek out ‘cus I’m more of an illustrative guy and he’s more, he’s not more design, but his stuff has a more illustrator style.
NL: A very designer background.
TD: Right, right. So it’s interesting seeing this different voice come in. You’ve got like Dan McCarthy and stuff like that which kind of work along the same lines but Russ is coming from more of a pop culture sensibility I think. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops over time. As far as stuff on the horizon I’m doing a print series with James O’Barr, the guy who created The Crow. He lives in Dallas, we’ve kind-of just gotten to know each other over the last couple of years.
NL: That’s pretty cool.
TD: Yeah he’s a nice guy. So he owns The Crow…
NL: He can do what he wants.
TD: …yeah! And that’s great, and I was like, “Can I get other artists to do prints for The Crow and you get a percentage?” And he’s like, “Yeah, sure.” And it’s great ‘cus I don’t have to talk to a movie studio, I don’t have to pay a licensing fee, I’m working directly with the guy who created the property.
NL: That is rad.
TD: And he is awesome. I’m doing more stuff with Paul Pope this year, he’s a big-time comic book artist, artsy guy. He doesn’t do a lot of prints, but his stuff’s just beautiful. But yeah, the whole business has grown organically and I would love to say it’s because I have some grand plan, but really it’s just like whatever I want to do that month is what kind-of happens. I’m really happy with it. It takes up most of my waking hours, but it’s my own build, I don’t have a boss to tell me what to do and what not to do and I’m not accountable to anyone other than the artists I work with.
NL: That’s the way to do it.
NL: Final question: Any advice for people trying to get into the industry?
TD: Stand out.
NL: Don’t play video games?
TD: There’s getting into the industry full-bore I wanna’ support myself and my family, and that I wish I could say I had a formula for it. As far as just doing stuff and getting out there, do something new. You’ve gotta’ be clever and you’ve gotta’ be good and you’ve gotta’ know how to draw and you’ve gotta’ design. I’ll get stuff from some artists and they don’t have any idea how to lay out their files for print and that’s really frustrating. Like the technical aspects of setting up your file for print. I’ll get files from some artists who’ve done a lot of prints, and they still don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. You’re like, “What is wrong with this guy?”
NL: Like trapping or color separating.
TD: Yeah, and they’re like, “Oh, the print shop does that, right?” No! You want me to do this? ‘Cus it’s gonna’ look like ass.
NL: It takes a lot of time.
TD: It takes a lot of time and it’s not my job. If you wanna’ pay me $50/hour then I’ll do it but then you’re gonna’ spend $1000 with me ‘cus I’m gonna’ get it right. And not only that, you need to know how you want your prints to look, and I think learning how to silkscreen. It’s hard to say, “Hey, build a silkscreen shop and learn how to silkscreen.” to most people because it’s an undertaking. But you learn so much doing it. The reason my stuff looks like it does is because I’ve spent a lot of hours printing my own stuff and learning the process.
The thing about silkscreening is you’re making a product to sell and it’s a lot easier to sell than a painting, so you can really experiment and get crazy but it also takes a lot of dedication and work. Like you’re not gonna’ go, “Here’s my thing.” and the world’s gonna’ beat its path to your door. I know a lot of artists, older artists, whose time kinda’ passed them by because they never got on social media, you know, they never got themselves a website. Get on it, dude! There’s this thing out there called the internet, learn it, please. You just kinda’ have to go at it and stand out and not be a dick. That’s pretty important.
NL: That’s very important.
TD: I mean I fell into that job at Mondotees and I got to learn this industry completely, top to bottom, in a way that I don’t think I would have been able to otherwise. And that just helped me tremendously.
NL: Yeah you were there from the beginning, pretty much.
TD: Yeah, it had only been open for I think a year.
NL: It’s just still a pretty young industry though.
TD: You’d think so. I mean there was a huge rock poster move in the ’90s, and that was a revival of it kinda’ dying off in the ’70s, so there’s a lot. The roots are deep. But the pop culture stuff is really interesting. It’s hard to stand out, you know?
We do know, Tim! Thanks for letting your inner nerd out to play with us here at Nerdlocker! That’ll do it for this interview. You can see/purchase Tim’s art over on Nakatomi Inc or on Tim’s portfolio website. And keep checking Nerdlocker for more and more interviews!